The Triple Intersection of Trauma, Neurodiversity & Gender Diversity – Part 2

Neurodivergent youth and young adults, including those with autism, and gender-expansive youth face more adversity and are at a greater risk of trauma, such as abuse and neglect, as well as experiences like rejection, isolation, and bullying than their peers without those differences. Those living at the intersection of both neurodivergence, and gender expansiveness are at even higher risk. Join Cassie & Kelly Smith as they explore the relationship between neurodivergence and trauma in Part 2 of this series.

Guest Info: 

Kelly Smith, LICSW, has worked with families since 1986. She has a private practice specializing in attachment, trauma and loss, in Concord, New Hampshire. Her goal has been to bring passion, honor, and respect to all individuals involved with foster care and adoption. Kelly has been named Outstanding Therapist by NAMI New Hampshire and recognized by Governor Maggie Hassan for her leadership in improving the lives of people affected by mental illness and emotional disorders.

Host Info: 

Cassie Gillespie, LICSW, is a full-time faculty member in the University of Vermont’s Social Work Department, and the host of the SOCIAL WORK LENS podcast. Cassie is a former child welfare worker, and training team lead at the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership (VT-CWTP) with over 15 year’s experience serving children, youth, families, and helping professionals.

Transcript:

Kelly Smith (00:00):

All of us have behaviors, and our kids particularly have more behaviors than language that tells the story. And what I want all of us to really think about is, let’s notice the behaviors, let’s know, they tell a story, there’s something about the behaviors, but let’s don’t focus on the behaviors. And we talked about this in the first episode, so I encourage you to go back and listen to it, ’cause , we talked about it more in depth, but really, again, who our neurodivergent individuals are is amazing and unique and strong and creative, and courageous, and funny and resourceful, and they wanna be connected.

Cassie Gillespie (00:41):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie and you’re listening to the Social Work Lens. The Social Work lens is a podcast produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. This is the second part in a three-part series on the triple intersection between trauma, neurodiversity and gender diversity. Today we’ll be talking with Kelly Smith and we’ll be digging in deeper to the intersection of trauma and neurodiversity. But as is always the case with a series, this will make more sense if you go back and listen to part one first. Okay, here we go. Welcome Kelly. Thanks for coming back.

Kelly Smith (01:19):

Absolutely. Good morning.

Cassie Gillespie (01:21):

So for anyone who either has forgotten since the last time or didn’t take our good advice to listen to the first episode, will you just do a brief introduction?

Kelly Smith (01:30):

Absolutely. So I’m Kelly Smith. I’m a licensed, independent, clinical social worker, have been so for about 35 years now and my pronouns are she, her, hers. I am passionate, and I guess some people would say I’m an expert, but I go with, I’m passionate.

Cassie Gillespie (01:47):

<laugh>.

Kelly Smith (01:48):

about the areas of attachment, trauma loss, and grief in this triple intersection of trauma, neurodiversity, and gender diversity.

Cassie Gillespie (01:56):

Awesome and so since we’re gonna spend the bulk of our time today, really kind of peeling back the layers on the neurodiversity lens, would you give our listeners just a little reminder about what you mean by that term?

Kelly Smith (02:09):

Absolutely. We really have moved on this topic, because we still have the diagnosis of autism. However, what we’re learning from individuals with autism, or they refer to themselves also sometimes as I’m autistic. And we’ll talk maybe a little bit about language and you can reference it back in the first part of the series also, but neurodiversity, what we’re learning is that it’s a range of diversity that exists in the human neurodevelopment. So we all, whether we wanna admit it or not, we all are neurodivertial.

Cassie Gillespie (02:49):

<laugh>.

Kelly Smith (02:50):

Like, and what a blessing for, for there to be that freedom. So I have some neurodiversity, Cassie has neurodiversity because every single one of our brains processes listens, hears differently.

Cassie Gillespie (03:04):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Kelly Smith (03:05):

So let’s embrace that difference, you know, neurotypical in our society, in our world, in our schools, and everything is set up in a more neurotypical way. And neurotypical definition really is about people whose neurodevelopment falls within a range usually considered typical. Well, what’s typical,

Cassie Gillespie (03:26):

Yeah. The whole thing.

Kelly Smith (03:27):

If we all are neurodiverse.

Cassie Gillespie (03:29):

It’s like a lot of words that don’t really say much at the end of the day.

Kelly Smith (03:32):

And at the end of the day, let’s be curious, let’s figure out ourselves and let’s be curious about other people that we’re engaging with.

Cassie Gillespie (03:40):

Okay.

Kelly Smith (03:41):

Because at the end of the day, it really is inclusivity matters.

Cassie Gillespie (03:44):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (03:45):

Not the language.

Cassie Gillespie (03:45):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (03:45):

Or the word or the, or the definition or diagnosis.

Cassie Gillespie (03:48):

So if we’re saying on the one hand, neurodiversity is this umbrella term that speaks to the different ways people’s brains can develop and present, and we’re also saying that there is a particular place to lean in and notice the intersection between that neurodiversity and trauma and gender expression, that triple intersection there. Why does it matter to talk about these things together?

Kelly Smith (04:09):

That’s a great question. I think we haven’t been talking about it. We haven’t understood, and what we have now are people who have some language for, we have some individuals who say, hey, my experience matters and I want to be heard and I want to be counted. So, which leads me to some numbers. Now, I’m not a big number person, and I think numbers are relative because if we have numbers based on research, then these numbers have been reported to somebody.

Cassie Gillespie (04:40):

Right.

Kelly Smith (04:40):

But there’s a lot of people’s numbers who haven’t been counted or reported.

Cassie Gillespie (04:44):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (04:44):

So it’s all relative. But the fact that we have these numbers says something. And these numbers are from 2021, so a little old, but not that far off in their NCTSN numbers, so they’re reputable. So, nine in a thousand children in the US are maltreated annually. So when I say maltreated, I’m talking about abuse and neglect findings. So, those are the ones we know about. Right. And what we know as social workers is there’s a lot of kids who have experienced abuse and neglect that haven’t been counted. One in 44 youth in the US have an intellectual disability. So those are our kids who have a IEP who have that determination.

Cassie Gillespie (05:26):

And are, is that the place where children who are neurodiverse might be getting sort of formally diagnosed and labeled this way?

Kelly Smith (05:34):

It could be there, it could be under other health impaired around sensory integration needs and stuff like that. We’ll talk a little bit more about sensory needs when we talk about neurodiversity. One in 36 children have the diagnosis of autism. So again, that could feed into our school reports, our IEPs and things like that. 1.6 million, notice I said million, youth age 13 plus identify as transgender, and again, those are the brave, brave kids who have put it out there to their community and their world. And one in four, so this one is big for us, one in four individuals who have ASAD identity or what I would prefer calling neurodiversity are also identify as LGBTQIA. So 25% of our individuals who are neurodiverse also identify as LGBTQIA. That’s big!

Cassie Gillespie (06:37):

And that’s huge and I wanna ask a question about this, because I feel like you’re absolutely correct, we haven’t been talking about it. We’ve been talking about some of these labels, diagnoses, or even just gender expressions as like siloed parts of identity. Right? And so that’s why that intersectionality piece is so important that we talked about in the first episode. What do we know about a causal or even correlated relationship between neurodiversity and youth identifying as LGBTQIA? Do we know anything about that?

Kelly Smith (07:08):

We are beginning to know some things. And so I am a part of an amazing team of people at Dartmouth. We’re a part of the Dartmouth Intervention Trauma Research Center, also known as DTIRC, Have some resources available at the end of this podcast for the work we’re doing there and what are, we have a current grant right now, it’s a five year grant. It’s a SAMSA, an NCTSN grant, and what we are looking at, is the triple intersection of, and we have world and country statewide people across the country, that specialize in either the trauma or the gender or the neurodiversity. And we’re, we’ve come together to the table to write some articles, to do some training, to do some research. And, so we don’t have perfect answers yet on John Strang, who is internationally known for neurodiversity and gender, he is very much at the table with us and does a lot of research and writing about this, and we are in the process of also doing some research and writing some articles. So there’s a lot to learn, but you’re absolutely right, we are siloed. We have been siloed, and even the services and the organizations to work with these kids are siloed and that’s what needs to shift.

Cassie Gillespie (08:29):

Yeah. Yeah. And you know, listeners will be transparent, when Kelly and I were talking about how to structure this conversation, it’s difficult to even give information on these various topics without siloing <laugh>. ’cause You have to kind of chunk it out, right, to talk about these things. So, we’ll commit to you to keep trying to weave it together and I’m gonna maybe try to bring us back to the focus of this episode, this conversation, which is, about that intersection between youth who are experiencing trauma and neurodiversity. So Kelly, where do you want us to start when we’re thinking about this lens?

Kelly Smith (09:04):

So as, as we’ve understood autism in the past ,what we’ve known is that someone has autism. But what we’ve learned is that it’s not linear. It’s not all or none, it’s not high functioning, low functioning, but it really is this spectrum. And someone who has autism or neurodiversity could have incredible abilities and strengths in emotional regulation or executive functioning and yet they may have, they may really struggle in social differences, or they may really struggle in the processing of language. So it isn’t this all or none, high or low functioning, it really is now, neurodiversity and that all of our brains process and learn and take in the environment all differently. And it’s about high level support needs or lower support needs. And at school, I might need and have higher support needs, yet on the basketball team.

Cassie Gillespie (10:19):

Right.

Kelly Smith (10:19):

Or at grandma’s house or at summer camp, I may have lower support needs.

Cassie Gillespie (10:27):

Yeah. Yeah.

Kelly Smith (10:28):

And for, again, for us to be curious and to get to know the individual and to ask the questions and to engage with them and be attuned to them and listen what their needs are, there’s a lot to a lot for us to learn.

Cassie Gillespie (10:45):

And so I think I’m hearing you kind of push us gently trying to get us out of the, okay, autistic people do this, or high functioning autistic people do that. And to think instead about people with neurodiversity, people who have autism, whatever language feels appropriate to that individual in terms of what they wanna use for how they describe themselves, present with a wide variety and range of strengths and areas where they could use some support. And that, that is the frame we should be using to think about this as opposed to like a criteria. I know something about this person. ’cause they have this label.

Kelly Smith (11:20):

Absolutely. And folks in the world of autism, they will say, if you know one autistic person, you know, one autistic person.

Cassie Gillespie (11:28):

Right.

Kelly Smith (11:29):

But isn’t that true for all of us?

Cassie Gillespie (11:30):

Of course. Well, that’s the thing I’m thinking, right?

Kelly Smith (11:32):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (11:32):

This is true for absolutely everybody.

Kelly Smith (11:34):

Everybody, and again, we are, we are learning so much, so so much from our individuals who are neurodivergent, they’re teaching us.

New Speaker (11:45):

Yeah.

New Speaker (11:45):

They’re teaching us about inclusivity and language and curiosity and attunement and, you know, good for them and shame on us.

Cassie Gillespie (11:53):

Right? And we see this even in the DSM and, if you’re listening and you’re not a mental health clinician or a licensed social worker, you may not be familiar with the DSM, but that, oh gosh, help me out. Kelly, the Diagnostic Statistical manual, does that sound right? It’s the big book of mental health diagnoses that you use as a clinician. And the autism diagnosis has moved a lot and changed significantly just in the last edition. And I think one of the pieces that we don’t think about, you know, culturally enough is that mental health is really fluid, but was a diagnosis and the third DSM is not a diagnosis in the current DSM. And we move things in and out as a society, you know, when we think about them differently. So, neurodiversity is definitely one of these topics that we’re watching the change happen now, live in real time.

Kelly Smith (12:45):

And I think it’s happening pretty quickly.

Cassie Gillespie (12:47):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (12:47):

Because they’re pushing us, and I excuse my language when I say they, but people with autism ,

Cassie Gillespie (12:53):

yeah.

Kelly Smith (12:53):

neurodivergent, people are pushing us to say it’s all of us.

Cassie Gillespie (12:58):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (12:58):

And hey, look at yourself, and then Kelly Smith looks at herself, she’s like, dang yeah, I have some that’s me too.

Cassie Gillespie (13:05):

Yeah, you’re us.

Kelly Smith (13:06):

I’m us.

Cassie Gillespie (13:07):

Laughing

Kelly Smith (13:07):

We’re us.

Cassie Gillespie (13:08):

Amazing. So, with that as sort of the grounding principle to think about this. In the first episode, we talked about some examples of where the specific intersection between trauma and neurodiversity might be. Like, what are the events that someone who is experiencing neurodiversity, might have happened to them that are traumatic? Can you remind us just a couple so we can contextualize kind of, where to move from here?

Kelly Smith (13:35):

Absolutely. Bullying and exploitation by peers, I think is a daily matter for individuals and youth with neurodiversity. And I think what’s difficult, because some of our individuals do struggle with reading social cues or understanding tone of voice. So what can happen, a kid at school who is autistic, who has autism, notice my language there again, they’re walking down the hallway and Joey and Bobby make fun of them and they’re laughing, but George is like, oh, Bobby and Joey are laughing with me, they’re my buddies. And you know, I turn around and I give them high five. And then they’re laughing more. And what George May not realize is that they’re laughing at him.

Cassie Gillespie (14:28):

Right.

Kelly Smith (14:29):

And what they said three other people overheard. So then that continued the bullying and exploitation. And then three days later when George sees Bobby and Joe and maybe goes to give them knuckles, like, oh, we’re friends.

Cassie Gillespie (14:44):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (14:45):

Then they’re made fun of or pushed into a locker or ignored or things like that. And that, that’s what’s difficult for I think, so many kids at school. High school was hard enough in middle school to read, are you my friend or not my friend today. But for our kids with neurodiversity, I think it’s even more difficult. And I just think of the, the sadness to realize, oh, they’re not my friends.

Cassie Gillespie (15:12):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (15:13):

And where I go home and I tell my mom the story and my mom’s like, yeah, that was not nice. Those are not your friends. But, but mom, they’re my friends, we were laughing together, we gave knuckles.

Cassie Gillespie (15:23):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (15:23):

And, and then a month later to not be invited to the party and everybody’s talking about it, but they’re my friends and I don’t get invited.

Cassie Gillespie (15:31):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (15:31):

. I think that, for me, that’s just sad.

Cassie Gillespie (15:34):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (15:34):

That’s just sad. And I, you know, I think of my nephew and never, ever, ever invited to a birthday party or prom or homecoming or school dances or, you know, really nothing. And that’s sad. And then you have, you know, unfortunately improper use of restraints, so a kid loses their noodle in the gymnasium because of the sounds and the noise and there’s too much going on and, and they just have this sensory meltdown and, and someone misreads that or a chair gets thrown and someone misreads that and then this kid gets restrained because they think they’re gonna hurt themselves or someone else. And, and then that becomes a traumatic experience. And.

Cassie Gillespie (16:19):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (16:19):

And being held down and you know, I mentioned before the medical appointments and you know, the dentist, oh my goodness. No disrespect to the dentist who might be listening.

Cassie Gillespie (16:29):

<laugh>

Kelly Smith (16:29):

but going to the dentist,

Cassie Gillespie (16:31):

It’s hard as an adult,

Kelly Smith (16:32):

That’s a thing.

Cassie Gillespie (16:34):

Neurotypical adult here who hates the dentist.

Kelly Smith (16:36):

That’s a thing for all of us. So then you expect our folks to go to the dentist and they’ve got this big light in front of them. They’ve got these weird glasses on them.

Cassie Gillespie (16:45):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (16:46):

And then they got this heavy thing on their chest, and then someone’s picking and chewing and picking and putting water in there. I’m telling you, my nephew is losing their noodle to go to the dentist. And so then yeah out in the parking lot, it’s not pretty.

Cassie Gillespie (17:01):

Yeah. Yeah.

Kelly Smith (17:01):

Or I can’t go back to school the next day or that afternoon because it wasn’t pretty. So those are the kinds of things that our neurodivergent youth experience and families.

Cassie Gillespie (17:11):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (17:12):

Experience. And there’s a lot of judgment and blame that is put on parents with special needs kids. And it’s like, or at Target, you know, how many times have I had to pick and carry?

Cassie Gillespie (17:24):

Right.

Kelly Smith (17:24):

Or they’re losing their noodle over the bright lights, but what it looks like is I’m giving into my kid and giving them the hot wheel.

Cassie Gillespie (17:33):

‘Cause We’ve got these standards, right, these normative standards.

Kelly Smith (17:35):

yeah.

Cassie Gillespie (17:36):

of what parenting is. We were talking even in the car on the way here, right,

Kelly Smith (17:39):

yeah.

Cassie Gillespie (17:39):

About the generational expectations of how children need to behave in a restaurant.

Kelly Smith (17:44):

Yes.

Cassie Gillespie (17:44):

And how exhausting that can be.

Kelly Smith (17:46):

Yeah.

Cassie Gillespie (17:47):

For everybody involved. Yeah. And one of the things I’m thinking about as I’m listening to you, Kelly, is I, I think we’re doing well, I know that we’re trying to use the complexity and be nuanced in this conversation to, to just model over and over. There’s no one way that children with neurodiversity present, right, but I think some of the examples we’re talking about are for, might be more applicable or relevant to youth with neurodiversity who have higher support needs. One of the things I’ve heard a lot about just through the school system and working with educators is some of the challenges that might come with neurodiverse youth who have lower support needs, but are working really hard to mask all day long. Right?

Kelly Smith (18:31):

Yes.

Cassie Gillespie (18:31):

And I’m wondering if we could talk about that concept a little bit and how that plays out for some other neurodiverse youth.

Kelly Smith (18:37):

Absolutely. So those youth may be incredibly bright incredibly successful in the academics. They could teach the math class. They, because how they line things up and how they can see things and their perceptions, they are brilliant in math or science or writing or something. Yet, walking down the hallway and reading that social cue or never wanting to go to gym class,

Cassie Gillespie (19:10):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (19:12):

Never wanting to go to the lunchroom, wanting to go to art, but I’m only gonna do what I want to do in art class. So, I get an F in art class.

Cassie Gillespie (19:23):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Kelly Smith (19:24):

yet I’m a fantastic water colorer.

Cassie Gillespie (19:27):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (19:28):

And us not really understanding. Well, he’s a brilliant student, he gets straight A’s, so what do you mean he can’t?

Cassie Gillespie (19:36):

Right.

Kelly Smith (19:37):

And us not understanding. And the masking piece of I know enough to know what it should look like. And I try all day long to do that. Whether it’s stop rocking or stop playing with my hair or

Cassie Gillespie (19:55):

Chewing my hair, chewing my shirt,

Kelly Smith (19:57):

Chewing my hair, or the spinners that I play with, or my squeezy things I play with. You know, I’m a junior in high school now, so I guess it’s not cool to have my little squishy toy. So instead, you know, I chew in my pencil or instead I’m constantly gripping my pencil just to mask it because I need my squishy thing, but I can’t have my squishy thing and I mask it and then I go home, or I get on the bus and it’s loud and I lose my noodle on the bus or I get home and all I wanna do is sleep.

Cassie Gillespie (20:29):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (20:29):

Because I have just spent the last six hours just masking,

Cassie Gillespie (20:34):

Just trying to fit into a world,

Kelly Smith (20:35):

Just trying to do it because, I can’t rock, I can’t chew on my pencil. I, they took my cheese away. You have to listen to the previous episode to understand the cheese story, you know, know I can’t, I’m a junior, you know, I can’t play with my squishy toy, but, but those are all the things I need.

Cassie Gillespie (20:53):

Yeah. Yeah.

Kelly Smith (20:54):

Right now I’m sitting here in the studio and I’ve got the mic cord.

Cassie Gillespie (20:58):

<laugh>.

Kelly Smith (20:58):

and, you know, it’s kind of, it’s kind of squishy, you know, I’m just playing with it and that that’s just what I’m doing.

Cassie Gillespie (21:06):

Yep.

Kelly Smith (21:06):

And, and let me play with the dang squishy cord.

Cassie Gillespie (21:08):

Yeah, yeah.

Cassie Gillespie (21:10):

Well, and I’ve seen some interesting movement in that over the last couple of years. You know, so like as a trainer, you know, we’ll now have fidgets out.

Kelly Smith (21:19):

Yes.

Cassie Gillespie (21:20):

Coloring books, pipe cleaners, squishies, whatever for adults, for adults, you know, not just for kids. And it’s, it’s lovely to be, I find as a trainer to be in front of the room kind of doing some type of workshop and have people, you know, soothing in a way so that they can attend to the content and still be regulated and.

Kelly Smith (21:41):

Yep.

Cassie Gillespie (21:41):

What a different world it would be if that was acceptable in all spaces. Not just, you know, nichey social work trainings, <laugh>.

Kelly Smith (21:48):

Exactly.Exactly. Why can’t my junior in high school have his little stuff.

Cassie Gillespie (21:53):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (21:53):

Out on a table.

Cassie Gillespie (21:54):

For sure.

New Speaker (21:55):

And not have to mask and pretend to be Okay.

Cassie Gillespie (21:58):

There’s a huge conversation around later in life, adult diagnosis.

Kelly Smith (22:03):

Yes. I met a woman yesterday professionally we’re working on a project together, and she’s in her thirties and shared that she was just recently diagnosed and all those years of masking and not really knowing what it was, but just knowing that in a professional setting like this, I can’t do that.

Cassie Gillespie (22:24):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Kelly Smith (22:25):

But then realizing when she would get home, how exhausted she was. And finally to have, not that we want diagnosis, not that we want labels, but it also can be freeing to say, I have a name now,

Cassie Gillespie (22:39):

Or a community,

Kelly Smith (22:40):

I have a community. And she was talking about starting maybe some support groups for professional women who have late diagnosis. And that’s a whole nother gender thing. We, we typically see younger boys diagnosed earlier than girls and often girls won’t get diagnosed even until they’re adults. And

Cassie Gillespie (23:01):

That’s the intersectionality right there.

Kelly Smith (23:04):

Absolutely. And you know, there’s some theories about why and one thought I have about it is that, and this is so ,this is so gender typing too though, okay, so girls may be in their room alone reading for hours, right, or playing with dolls and dressing them and redressing ’em and their barbies, cutting their hairs and, you know, all that kind of stuff. Some of the repetitive behaviors,

Cassie Gillespie (23:30):

Hyperfocus stuff. Yeah.

Kelly Smith (23:31):

The hyperfocus repetitive behaviors. The dollhouse has to be just right, da dah, dah dah. Yet that isn’t seen in the same way

Cassie Gillespie (23:40):

That’s a little more gender normative. Yeah. I’m doing quotes.

Kelly Smith (23:43):

Yeah, yeah. Then, you know, my nephew, it was Thomas the train and oh my goodness, it was Thomas train everything and Thomas train was all over the house. And and it was easy to see, oh, there’s some preoccupation with Thomas a train.

Cassie Gillespie (23:57):

Yeah. Yeah.

Cassie Gillespie (23:58):

But not so much with maybe a little girl who’s reading a book and who wants to read all of the horse books in the library. So it is quite interesting how it looks different and then how we misdiagnosis

Cassie Gillespie (24:10):

Based on our society’s understanding of gender

Kelly Smith (24:12):

And expectations. Yeah,

Cassie Gillespie (24:13):

Yeah, exactly. So, okay. I know that we’re are starting to run a little short on time. I think that we wanted to talk a little bit about behaviors and how we should view those behaviors when an individual with neurodiversity is, has encountered something that’s difficult or challenging.

Kelly Smith (24:34):

So all of us have behaviors and our kids particularly have more behaviors than language that tells the story. And what I want all of us to really think about is, let’s notice the behaviors, let’s know, they tell a story, there’s something about the behaviors, but let’s don’t focus on the behaviors. And we talked about this in the first episode, so I encourage you to go back and listen to it, ’cause We’ll, we talked about it more in depth, but really again, who our neurodivergent individuals are is amazing and unique and strong and creative and courageous and funny and resourceful, and they wanna be connected. So yeah, they may rock and yeah, they may eat the same slice of cheese and yeah, they might lose their noodle over loud noises in the gymnasium and yeah they may tear off their sweatshirt because the seams are bugging them and you know, when it’s a high stress level, they may do some rocking and and playing with their fingers. And so those may be some of the behaviors that we see, but really what we need to see, is how amazing and unique and strong and creative and courageous and funny and resourceful they are because they figured out how to take care of themselves.

Cassie Gillespie (25:50):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (25:51):

Their neurological system and their sensory system is on overdrive, and they have figured out how to take care of that and what looks like maladaptive, but actually it’s pretty darn adaptive.

Cassie Gillespie (26:07):

Yeah, yeah.

Kelly Smith (26:08):

Yeah. And as we can walk alongside of them and be curious and see them as amazing and unique people, you know, I think it makes a difference.

Cassie Gillespie (26:16):

Yeah. And if you had one sort of request for people who are working with individuals with neurodiversity who have high support needs, you know, what would that be? Because I think a lot of our listeners may have people in their lives who have all sorts of different experiences, but might also be working in roles where they’re working with neurodiverse youth in schools or, you know, neurodiverse youth in the child child welfare system or Neurodiverse youth in the mental health system. So is there a main thing you really want folks to think about?

Kelly Smith (26:51):

Yes. I have a lot of things I want them to think about.

Cassie Gillespie (26:54):

<laugh>.

Kelly Smith (26:55):

the framework that we talked about in episode one of really showing up and engaging. That’s something I really want folks to go back and listen to. But the other thing I really want folks to, to take from this conversation is this concept of hope. I want all of us to have hope for the individual. And a couple things I wanna say about hope. I’ve learned a lot about hope. Hope’s not an emotion. Hope is this cognitive thinking approach, and it’s a hundred percent teachable. And people who have experienced hard times are better at having hope. And hope is a function of that struggle. And this is what I love I think the most about hope is that there are two prerequisites for high levels of hopefulness and it’s perseverance and tenacity.

Cassie Gillespie (27:49):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Kelly Smith (27:49):

And think about that for our neurodivergent youth. Oh my goodness. Perseverance to just get out of bed.

Cassie Gillespie (27:56):

To move through a world that has a…

Kelly Smith (27:57):

To move through a world and the tenacity that they keep showing up. That’s what I, I want folks to hold onto and people who have had hope have had someone in their life that modeled and held out hope for them. And might one of us who’s listening today, might we be that person for someone.

Cassie Gillespie (28:21):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Kelly Smith (28:23):

that we just walk alongside and have hope for them and believe in them and be curious and see them as amazing people. Yeah.

Cassie Gillespie (28:30):

And I know you’ve really raised up for me some interesting reflection points about showing up as curious as really sort of the center of that practice, you know?

Kelly Smith (28:41):

Yes. Yes.

Cassie Gillespie (28:41):

Yeah.

Kelly Smith (28:42):

Don’t assume be curious.

Cassie Gillespie (28:44):

Yeah, that’s a tagline. <Laugh>.

Kelly Smith (28:46):

Yeah.

Cassie Gillespie (28:46):

, <laugh>. Okay. Is it okay to leave it there for this one?

Kelly Smith (28:50):

I’m Good.

Cassie Gillespie (28:51):

Okay, well that sounds like an amazing place to pause here. We will continue the conversation next time and dig into the gender diversity component. So thank you Kelly.

Kelly Smith (29:00):

Absolutely. Thank you.

Cassie Gillespie (29:04):

The Social Work Lens is produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our theme music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop, and our sound production and engineering has been brought to you by Egan Media Productions. We’d also like to give a special thank you to our in-house administrative production assistant Emma Baird. For the Social Work Lens, I’m Cassie Gillespie and we’ll see you next time.

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